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Returning The Disabled Soldier To Economic Independence

Creator: Douglas C. McMurtrie (author)
Date: November 1918
Publication: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Source: Available at selected libraries

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BY DOUGLAS C. MCMURTRIE, Director, Red Cross Institute for Crippled and Disabled Men


It is surprising how very recent has been the development of the work of rehabilitating the disabled man. Up to ten years ago absolutely nothing had been done in that direction, and while the cripple received monetary compensation of one kind or another in the past, nothing was done to put him back on his own feet or to deal with him in a constructive manner. The only obligation acknowledged to the disabled soldier in the past has been the payment of a pension -- which has not always been a help to the man in the long run. It has been a necessary provision, of course, but it did not go far enough. It was never enough to support a man, on the assumption that he was totally disabled, and has acted more or less as a subsidy which has not proven an encouragement for him to go out and earn his own living. We have dealt practically in the same way with disabled industrial workers. We have, even under the most enlightened legislation, compensated him for his disability in the form of a money pension and left him idle and without any means of getting back to usefulness. This is also, I am glad to say, in the process of change.


The first school for the disabled adult was established in 1908 in Belgium, at Charleroi, and was practically the only school in existence up to the opening of the present war. During the first couple of weeks of hostilities that school was swept out of existence by the German invasion. The next move was made in Lyons, France, in December, 1914. That institution was the fore-runner of all the other schools, of which there are now over one hundred in France alone. The work has been taken up by practically every other nation, it being realized that the only real compensation to the disabled man is to put him back again where he can be useful, when we talk about taking a man who has lost an arm or a leg, or who has lost two legs, and sending him out to earn his own living again so that he will be able to earn as much as he did before, it does not sound plausible. The usual reaction will be: "That's 'all very well to talk about but can it be done?" I think I can demonstrate the logic of it by a couple of simple examples. Let us suppose that a man comes back from the front with both legs off. That is a serious handicap and he would ordinarily be classified under any pension scale as totally disabled, laid aside forever. Presume, however, that we take that man and teach him linotype operating, a job at which he will be seated all day long and which requires the use of only the head and the hands. Can that man turn out as good a day's work as the able-bodied worker next to him? There is absolutely no reason why he cannot. Let us presume that we have a man with only one arm, and that again is a serious handicap, because the arm cases are infinitely more difficult, generally speaking, than the leg cases, particularly in the case of manual workers. Let us suppose that we put that man in a furniture factory at a job as striper, that is, a man who takes the chairs after they have been painted and puts the stripes down the legs, or wherever the design calls for them. If you take a man with two hands and put him at that job he would probably keep one hand in his pocket because he will not have to use it. Is a man with one arm at all handicapped when placed at work of that character?


I was struck the other day when reading a document describing the work for the blind at one of the centers in Europe to learn that they had found successful employment for the blind in a clock factory at the job of testing out the gongs -- spiral pieces of tempered wire, upon which the hours are sounded. One of the jobs is testing these gongs, listening to the tone, and then adjusting the gauge at the end to make the tone right. The blind are used almost exclusively for this work and perform it as well or better than sighted workers could do.


In finding jobs for the handicapped, we look at the disabled man's capabilities rather than at his disabilities, and if we look long enough and carefully enough we will find many jobs for which the individual disability does not disqualify. If men are trained and put in those jobs they will, of course, succeed. This is, however, not as easy as it sounds. It requires long and painstaking work.


The most successful mechanism for discovering possible jobs is what is known as the industrial survey, with special reference to the placement of the handicapped. Such surveys were undertaken first in a very informal way in Great Britain, where committees studied certain trades and published statements of what opportunities there were in those trades for disabled men. Canada then took up the work and has done a most thorough and intensive job. The Invalided Soldiers' Commission has surveyed industry after industry, listing every process in the fields covered with relation to men with all types of handicap -- leg cases, arm cases, blindness, deafness and the like. Work of this character brings easily within range of the placement officer or vocational adviser a large number of jobs, which can be sifted down in relation to any individual case Some will be found exceptionally favorable, others medium, and so forth, and there will be discovered many processes that could not be known of unless some such large scale operation were carried out.

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